Two months ago today I posted this analogy between the 2012 presidential race and the one concluded just eight years before. It seems worthy of review again today.
” . . . pinning your party’s hopes on the most vocal advocates of a highly controversial social issue, when there is near universal agreement that other issues are more important, gives your party’s megaphone to those who are both extreme and irrelevant. Sandra Fluke is this year’s Terri Schiavo. For every already-Democrat she inspires to vote, she turns off at least one independent for the crime of insulting them by ignoring larger issues. Karl Rove’s plan to drive up Evangelical turnout in 2004, while it worked then, gave rise four years later to Mike Huckabee, who is perhaps the most demagogic and dangerous major presidential candidate to have run for office since William Jennings Bryan beclowned himself and his party in the late 19th century. It should have taken years for the GOP to disassociate its reputation from Huckabee’s form of Evangelical theocracy. Except now it appears that Democrats look ready to rush into their own version of anti-First-Amendment totalitarianism that, instead of forcing adherence to religious views, forces opposition to them. Most Americans hate both extremes of this tangential debate.”
Sean Trende wrote along similar lines today:
“Democrats, like Republicans today, were despondent. Aside from having a president they loathed in the White House for four more years, they were terrified by what seemed to be an emerging Republican majority. John Kerry had, after all, hit all of his turnout targets, only to be swamped by the Republican re-election effort. “Values voters” was the catchphrase . . . “
But 2004 was a Republican heyday, not matched by GOP turnout since. If Mitt Romney had only secured John McCain’s numbers, he would have come exceedingly close in the popular vote and would have picked up at least Ohio. If he had reached Bush’s levels, he would have won.
However, that is not to say that, had white turnout not fallen so precipitously this year, that Romney would have been victorious. (Sean Trende did not conclude that, although one might get that impression from what he wrote.) In fact, my own analysis of the effect of marginally likely voters tells me that had turnout increased, Mitt Romney would have lost even more.
I usually eschew labels because they are often ambiguous and imprecise. Just what is a conservative, for example? Leaving aside the fiscal, there are two other predominant conservative flavors: Western and Southern. Western conservatives are live and let live. A hard life eked out of mountains and prairies requires independent men. Southern conservatives, on the other hand, are too often perceived (often correctly) as operating in fear that somewhere someone might be having sex.
My daughter, who attends a conservative Catholic high school in the South, and who, the night before, was in tears over the result of the race, told me that she and her friends wonder about opposition to gay marriage: “Why is it such a big deal what other people do?” I think that she is right. But that is a Western conservative position of live and let live.
Republicans have lost Colorado now two elections in a row. Usually the excuse is an influx of Hispanics who lean Democratic. But I think that explanation falls dreadfully short. Two states north in Montana there is nary a Spanish accent around. It is less than 3% latin and is one of whitest states in the land. Bush beat Kerry there by 21 percent. Eight years later Romney’s margin had fallen to only 7 points.
It isn’t just gay marriage. But the GOP’s fascination with the sexual values of others has made it too easy for Democrats to caricature a party so full of Akins, that Mourdocks, who attempted nuanced arguments about life’s value, were left screaming voiceless into the wind. Vaginas and Flukes convinced not a single voter to vote Democratic, but they did make Republicans toxic to any who might be on the fence.
Live and let live, a philosphy logically consistent with fiscal conservtism, is leaving the GOP. They certainly aren’t turning Democratic, but they are turned off by the Republican brand. Meanwhile the “values voters” that propelled Bush to victory are dying off and not being replaced. Western states are flipping blue, not because Democrats are winning there, but because Republicans have chosen a losing philosophy around which to unite their base.
East of Helena by 2,500 miles sits a state that flies under a similar Gadsden flag. The “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire was once a reliable red island in a very blue sea. However, not since 2000, the last year when Republicans weren’t hitched to a Southern conservative wagon, has it voted GOP. Similar to the excuse offered about Colorado, the GOP’s decline is blamed on immigration. But again, that falls short. “Massholes,” as they are often derogatorily known, don’t flee the taxes of the Bay State to impose them on their new home. Upper New England, with its hardscrabble history, is the home of the original Western Conservative. Populated by a large number of refugees of Massachusetts’ puritanism, the area has long rejected the efforts of others to impose social mores.
This is who we once were as a country. The most lopsided presidential election of the last hundred years was won by a Republican from Upper New England, Calvin Coolidge, who would no longer recognize his GOP home. Silent Cal would abhor Huckabee Republicans who would tell others how to live in their bedrooms, just as he would abhor Barack Obamas and Mike Bloombergs who wish to control every other room of the house. Most Americans, like Coolidge before them, hate both extremes of this tangential debate.
UPDATE: Here’s an observation from the Democratic side of their own problems:
I did some work with OFA this year and my humble opinion is that the current Democratic party is on borrowed time. We’ve become TOO big of a tent when in reality white liberals essentially have nothing in common with Latinos or African-Americans. By pandering so much to specific identity groups we have driven white men away in droves and will soon start losing moderate women and Latinos as well. It’s a very awkward arrangement and instead of a party with a consensus of interests, we are the “Not the GOP” party. The GOP will figure it out with Latinos, to whom they have much to offer, and will moderate many of their stances or not speak of them at all. Pro-life is actually becoming a majority report and liberals an extreme minority. It will be interesting to see what happens to us going forward.
“We are not the Republicans” is no more successful of a slogan than the 2012 slogan of “We are not Obama.” In fact, that was John Kerry’s 2004 platform and it failed then too.
In many ways both parties are still vestiges of our geographic precursors, only instead of disparate geographic regions, they are now inconsistent constituencies. Reagan was supposed to have changed that by coalescing Republicans around an ideology. That ideology was ”leave us alone.” Leave us alone so that we don’t have to pay crippling taxes. Leave us alone from excessive government restrictions. Leave us alone to worship our gods. At a time when being a social conservative meant having legitimate concerns about bussing and crime, it was easier to coalesce an outcast minority to the cause. But here’s the rub for social conservatives: crime is no longer an issue. Nor is bussing. Social conservatives won. However, once they went on the offensive, opposition to gay marriage and immigration, for example, they no longer had the sympathetic argument of the victim oppressed by the world. They were the oppressors, imposing their views on people who just wanted to be left alone. If Republicans could look past their legacy ideas and groups, they might be able to link together a party, not by cobbling together groups disassociated from the other, but by building a cohesive party united around a logically consistent message and cause.
I encourage you to read Meghan McArdle’s article at the link and stroll through the comments.